IN FOOTBALL, beginnings are not everything. Charlie Adam's first game for Blackpool saw him sent off in a 3-2 defeat by Doncaster Rovers at Bloomfield Road.
Save for the colour of the seats in the Tianhe Stadium, which were a familiar tangerine, everything about his first game for Liverpool would have seemed alien -- from the smothering humidity to the polite rhythmic applause for any pass, however timid.
Adam, whose pre-seasons under Ian Holloway were mostly low-key West Country affairs, produced one glimpse of the brilliance that had persuaded Kenny Dalglish to spend six months and £7m pursuing him, but otherwise confined himself to small steps and short passes as Liverpool beat Guangdong Sunray Cave of the Chinese Second Division 4-3.
Beginnings in pre-season tours are not to be trusted. Two years ago, Michael Owen, wearing an equally unfamiliar Manchester United shirt, ran riot as Huangzhou Green Town were beaten 8-2. The riot did not endure much beyond Owen's return to Manchester Airport.
"I have waited since January for Charlie and I am not going to put pressure on him in any way, shape or form," said Dalglish. "He is here for the long term and it would be ridiculous to judge him on 45 minutes in a friendly."
Those who marched into Guangzhou behind the Red Army in 1949 would not recognise a city whose stadium lies directly opposite a skyscraper bearing the logo of Saatchi and Saatchi. But the need to wear a uniform endures.
The Tianhe Stadium was not full, but virtually all who came wore red with the sponsor's logo and the Liverpool crest.
'Gerrard' and 'Dalglish' were the most popular. Nobody seemed to be wearing '21 Coady'. And yet it was a goal from the young Merseysider, delivered with Gerrard-like brutality, that illuminated this game.
Dalglish had invested much of his time at the club's academy at Kirkby before moving front of house to salvage the wreckage of Roy Hodgson's brief reign.
And when describing Conner Coady (who captained England in the U-17 European Championship finals), Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Andre Wisdom, there was a touch of Arsene Wenger about him.
"There is no limit to what these young players can achieve when they are ready," he said. "It wasn't just Conner, although he scored a terrific goal. There were a few of them out there, playing in very difficult conditions and they came through. They are going to be with us for a very long time to come."
Guangzhou was where Paul Gascoigne, briefly and bizarrely, attempted to salvage something from the ruins of his career -- and was photographed munching on fried bats' wings to prove he was prepared to embrace the local culture. Liverpool dined in rather more style.
Even in a city upriver from Hong Kong, it is rare to find anyone who speaks English and yet Liverpool's Chinese fans, who had been serenaded by Jamie Carragher with the club's battle hymn at a shopping centre on Tuesday, managed a rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and then 'Stand Up If You Hate Man U'.
Dalglish described the reception as "overwhelming."
The Liverpool manager is not used to opposing managers describing him as their "icon and idol" as Cao Yang, the man in charge of Sunray Cave, did.
And, yet, when Yang remarked that Liverpool's defence had been "loose," it triggered something deep and primeval in a man who has never tolerated a word of criticism about the club since coming down from Glasgow in 1977.
"Loose?" Dalglish said. "They were looser than us. They conceded four."
Two goals in quick succession from Christian Poulsen and David Ngog midway through the first half put Liverpool in control and Coady grabbed the third after Guangdong had pulled one back.
Andy Carroll made it 4-1 five minutes from time, but there was still time for the hosts to make it a tight finish with two well-taken goals. (© Independent News Service)